Gearing up, giving back

By Ret Boney

GREENSBORO, N.C.  – As a child, Bonnie McElveen-Hunter lived in eight states and in Germany while her father flew U-2s for the Air Force.

Thirty years ago, she joined a printing company in Greensboro, N.C., that she has built into the nation’s largest custom-publishing firm.

She also served as ambassador to Finland, has raised money for Republicans and charities, and rang in 2000 by gathering 600 friends at a local warehouse on New Year’s Eve to build frames for four Habitat homes, raising them at the stroke of midnight.

Now, appointed last month by President Bush to chair the American Red Cross, McElveen-Hunter faces the daunting task of leading America’s largest charity as it prepares to help the nation face a new era of emergencies arising from the growing threat of terrorism and biological weapons.

“The president has asked me to lend a hand to ensure that America is prepared for both natural and, sadly, potential man-made disasters,” she says. “Our goal will be to assure our nation’s citizens that they can depend on the Red Cross to be of service whenever and wherever the need arises.”

As chair of its board of governors, McElveen-Hunter will work closely with the Red Cross board and CEO, overseeing an organization with 32,000 employees and 1.3 million volunteers.

The Red Cross, which provides disaster relief throughout the world and manages nearly half the U.S. blood supply, has long been one of the country’s largest charities and climbed to the top spot in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, according the Chronicle of Philanthropy, which tracks charities based on private funds raised.

As chair, McElveen-Hunter says, she will help prepare the Red Cross to tackle the dangerous new challenges facing the world.

Another goal, she says, will be to focus attention and recognition to the people who make the Red Cross tick.

Bonnie McElveen-Hunter

Job:  Owner and CEO, Pace Communications, Greensboro, N.C.

Birth date:  “Sort of 50”; born in Columbia, S.C.

Education:  B.S., business administration, Stephens College, Columbia, Missouri

Family Husband, Bynum Merritt Hunter; son, Bynum Merritt, Jr., Williams College

Hobbies:  Walking, reading, gardening, traveling, reading Wallace Stegner

Recently read:  “From Good to Great:  Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t,” by Jim Collins

Inspiration:  Mother, Madeline McElveen, “the quintessential optimist”

“We need to do a better job of sharing the personal stories, which are about the fabric of America, about the courage, compassion and caring of so many people,” she says.

Born in Columbia, S.C., McElveen spent her childhood on the move, raised in a series of communities where her father was stationed and her mother taught school.

After joining a Greensboro printing company 30 years ago to launch and manage Piedmont Airlines’ in-flight magazine, she helped spin off that division several years later and purchased the company about 10 years ago.

As owner and CEO of Greensboro-based Pace Communications, the oldest and largest custom-publishing firm in the U.S., she works to help clients such as United Airlines, Toyota and AT&T Wireless extend their brands to their customers, often through targeted magazines.

The firm, which donates 15 percent of its profits each year to charities, has since 1998 provided in-flight programming, including music and movies, to Air Force One.

McElveen-Hunter has served on the boards of Habitat for Humanity International and United Way of America, chairing its National Women’s Leadership Giving Campaign that raised over $1 billion.

“I believe that to whom much is given, much is required,” she says. “I believe in that biblical imperative.”

She also served as national campaign finance chair in Republican Elizabeth Dole’s 2000 bid for the presidency, was a member of George W. Bush’s national finance committee after Dole pulled out of the race, and chaired of the Women’s CEO Advisory Board while he was president-elect.

In 2001, Bush named McElveen-Hunter ambassador to Finland, a two-year term during which she organized the Helsinki Women’s Business Leader’s Summit.

That program connected female CEOs in the Baltic region with their counterparts in the U.S., fostering new opportunities in the region and developing long-lasting relationships with those countries, she says.

The program will be expanded to Latvia this fall, and McElveen-Hunter hopes eventually to launch similar efforts in the Middle East and China.

She also orchestrated what she says was Finland’s largest philanthropic effort to date, raising about $700,000 from individuals that flowed to nonprofits working to protect children from drugs, HIV/AIDS and child trafficking.

“What we want to share is the face and spirit of America,” she says of her international work. “It tells how we are multi-dimensional and we have a responsibility to take care of one another.”

That spirit and responsibility also will drive her work at the Red Cross, she says.

“I think about the Red Cross,” she says, “being a part of the fabric of the lives of so many of us.”

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